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No. 1059: INVENTING THE computer by john H. Lienhard

Click here for audio of episode 1059.

Today, let"s clock the microcomputer invent itself. The university of Houston"s college of engineering presents this series about the devices that do our human being run, and the human being whose ingenuity produced them.

That expansion of her brain, the computer on your desk, is an altering human background as considerably as harnessing fire as soon as did. The programmable computer, very first conceived by Charles Babbage in the 1830s, wasn"t finally built until the 1930s. In ~ first, us used delicate radio tubes in its logic circuits. Shortly after WW-II, we determined how to replace those bulky and also failure-prone tubes through the brand-new transistors. Then the genuine fun can begin.

Those computers were huge, isolated machines. In 1943 cutting board Watson, chairman of IBM, said, "I think there"s a world market for maybe 5 computers." v that type of thinking, no one paid much attention in 1952 once a british scientist called Dummar wrote:

It appears now feasible to envisage electronic equipment in a solid block through no connecting wires. The block may consist of layers of insulating, conducting, rectifying and also amplifying materials, electric junctions.

The subtle definition of the remark come clear as computer systems grew much more complex. As soon as an electronic aspect in a computer system had, say, one possibility in ten thousands of failing throughout a day"s use, and the computer system had ten thousands elements, maintenance came to be a nightmare.

Dummar"s idea of casting a set of digital functions into one monolithic electric element stood come vastly mitigate the price of failures. In July 1958 Jack Kilby the Texas instruments finally developed such an combined circuit. A couple of months later, Robert Noyce, head that Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation, produced a slightly far better version, independently. And also a patent war was underway.

~ dumping money into the courts for years, Fairchild and also TI saw how foolish combat was. Lock agreed to forget the lawyers and also share the idea. Kilby and Noyce identified one another"s contributions, and life walk on. It was a really wise point to do.

by 1969 both Fairchild and also TI had controlled to put complete central processing units on single chips. Climate Noyce developed a brand-new company, INTEL, for incorporated ELectronics, and he started developing whole computer motherboards. Prices plunged, yet we quiet didn"t see where every this to be going.

In 1977 the chairman of Digital Equipment agency could tho say, "There"s no reason people would want computers in your homes." Then new kinds of software program made it feasible for you and also me to use our computer systems without creating their programs. And computers timeless did get in our residences -- and also the closest soldier of our everyday lives, as well.

for this reason the computer was the fruit that a wisdom created not through the industry, nor the inventor, nor the consumer. The is a wisdom the rises the end of all 3 -- in concert through the machine itself.

I"m man Lienhard, at the university of Houston, whereby we"re interested in the means inventive mental work.

(Theme music) Reid, T.R., The Chip: exactly how Two Americans designed the Microchip and Launched a Revolution. Brand-new York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.

Malone, M.S., The Microprocessor: A Biography. New York: Springer Verlag, ELOS, 1995.


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i am grateful to Jeffery Scoggins of The Detering book Gallery in Houston for flagging the Malone source for me.